I have been thinking about cynicism the last couple of weeks. (I have piece coming out in a couple of months on cynicism for CT, so I won’t repeat that bit.) The thing that struck me this morning, and I tweeted about, was its appeal.
I think, teach, and write for a living. I’m supposed to know some things. To have insight into either Scripture, or God, or the world. Wisdom, of sorts.
The thing about cynicism is that it offers an easy shortcut to the appearance of wisdom.
“Seeing through” the stated reasons and motives of others is a particularly prized form of insight in our context. (We’re all Nietzscheans, squinting to get at what’s really going on.)
And so if I’m in a dispute with someone, it’s pretty easy for me to come up with a fairly plausible rationale for why someone believes, says, or does something other than the one they’ve stated.
“Sure, you say it’s because of Scripture, but also isn’t your job riding on you believing that?”
“Sure, you say it’s because you’ve honestly changed your mind, but also isn’t it convenient that most cultural winds blow that way today?”
“Sure, you say you’re now X because of intellectual reasons, but aren’t you also mostly just believing what’s gonna frustrate your dad?”
“Sure, you say you’re totally committed to the cause, but also RTs?”
I can come up with longer, more sophisticated versions of these sorts of readings on the fly now, and build ’em out to make them seem pretty plausible. At least to the people who already agree with me.
But are they true? Maybe. Or maybe they’re just stories I tell myself to flatter my own beliefs and look smart because, you know, I’m not getting suckered.
All this to say that default cynicism isn’t the same thing as biblical discernment. Discernment seeks out truth and falsehood. It sees as much as it sees through. Ironically enough, being too cynical can make you undiscerning, rendering false judgments, leaving you open being deceived, not positively, but negatively.
In other words, being “wise as a serpent”, is a lot harder than thinking everybody’s a liar all the time.
Soli Deo Gloria
Thanks Derek, I really find most of your stuff very helpful and also stimulating.
Cynicism can also be a fruit of disillusionment, of which there is much of in churcheology. And it does, as you point out, taint one’s ability for good discernment.
Reblogged this on Averagechristiannet and commented:
Derek Rishmaway (blogger and Ph.D. candidate in Systematic Theology at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School) writes a short but pithy article warning the thinking that being contentious and argumentative is not “discernment” but rather is CYNICISM. And there is WAY TOO MUCH of that in the cyberworld!